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180                                                                                                                 B- POLEVOI
guessing that it can walk, but fearing to let go of the life-
saving support of the wall. Like a mother or grandmother
taking an infant for its first walk with a towel round its
chest, Klavdia Mikhailovna carefully supported him on
one side and the old craftsman ^on the other. He stood
for a moment, feeling acute pain where the feet were
fastened to the legs. Then he hesitatingly put one crutch
forward and then the other, rested the weight of his
body upon them, brought up one foot and then the other.
The sound of creaking leather was heard, followed by
two loud taps on the floor.
"Good luck! Good luck!" said the old craftsman under
his breath.
Meresyev took a few more cautious steps, but these
first steps of his artificial feet cost him so much effort
that after reaching the door and returning to his bed he
felt as though he had carried a piano up four flights of
stairs. He flung himself upon the bed face downward,
sweating profusely, too weak to turn over on his back.
"Well, "how do you like 'em? You ought to thank God
there's a man like Zuyev in the world," chattered the old
man boastfully as he carefully unfastened the straps and
released Alexei's legs, which were slightly swollen from
the unaccustomed pressure. "With them on you'll be able
to fly not only in the ordinary way, but right up to the
Lord himself. It's good work, I tell you!"
"Thank you! Thank you, Grandpa. It is good work.
I can see that," mumbled Alexei.
The craftsman stood fidgeting for a while as if wishing
to ask a question and not daring to, or else, perhaps, ex-
pecting to be asked a question. At last, heaving a sigh
of disappointment, he said, moving slowly towards the
door:
"Well, good-bye. I hope you like them."
But before he reached the door Struchkov called out:
"Hey, old man! Take this and have a drink to cele-
brate the feet fit for a king!" With that he handed him
a batch of bills.
"Thanks! Thank you very much! The occasion is cer-
tainly worth a drink!" answered the old man, and raising
the skirt of his smock as if it were a craftsman's apron,
he slipped the money into his hip pocket with an impor-